Grandma was drunk again. And not just some slightly tipsy, old lady, isn’t-she-cute, drunk. She was falling down on her ass, mean, incoherent, tempting-me-to-toss-her-in-the-snow-to-get-run-over-by-a-reindeer, drunk.
Except there weren’t too many reindeer in Chicago. Lots of snow, though. Maybe I’d get lucky and a deer would wander by?
Nah…. Besides, awful as she was, she was the only family I had. My mom died almost ten years ago when I had just turned eight, I didn’t know who my dad was, and there was no other family as far as I knew. Just me and a mean, drunk granny.
And the occasional social worker.
That thought was enough to make me try to help the old woman sober up. I didn’t want to go into foster care days before my eighteenth birthday. I carefully approached where she was on the floor, crawling on her hands and knees, dressed all in black and looking so much like an angry bear that I almost laughed in spite of my pain.
I leaned down next to her, and was hit with a waft of whiskey, oranges, and cigarettes. “Grandma, let me help you up.”
She slapped away my outstretched hand. “Don’t need no damn help.”
I tried again, using a soft, pleading tone. “C’mon, Gram, let’s sit on the couch and look at the pretty lights.”
She tilted her head and I could see one eye blinking up at me through her wild tangle of hair.
I nodded and tried to give an encouraging smile, pointing toward the forlorn-looking Christmas tree we’d decorated the day before. Charlie Brown’s little tree had nothing on this baby. It was an old artificial tree that I’d rescued from a dumpster a couple years before, when I was determined to have my own Christmas tree, for once. I don’t know why I kept dragging it out each year—the only ornaments were ones I’d made from paper and aluminum foil, and I’d only been able to buy one strand of lights—but somehow, in spite of the fact that Santa never visited our house, it still made me feel good to see it. And strangely enough, it had the same effect on the old woman. She’d even sobered up enough this year to help me cut out paper snowflakes to add to it.
We’d put the tree in the living room next to the futon that served as both our sofa and my bed. I pointed to it again. “See the pretty lights? And the pretty snowflakes you made?”
“Let me help you over to the sofa and we can sit together, okay? Do you want me to rub your feet?”
Her head dropped down, mumbling something I couldn’t understand. I reached out again, and this time she didn’t shake me off.
Grandma wasn’t very tall, but she was plenty round, so it was a stretch for me to put my arms around her. I tried to pull her up but only managed to topple us both. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and when I looked down and saw that she had passed out, I did both.
I sat on the floor next to her, watching the colored lights blur through my tears until my back ached and my eyes burned so badly I knew I had to go to bed. I walked quietly into her bedroom, grabbed a pillow and blanket then tried to get her comfortable on the floor before climbing into the futon that served as our sofa and my bed, then pulled my covers over my head. I was too tired to even say my nightly prayer—the one I’d prayed for ten years, the one that had never been answered—the one where I begged that whoever my father was, he’d come rescue me.
“Happy flippin’ holidays,” I mumbled.
Just as I was dozing off, I heard a skittering noise then a soft snuffling sound. I opened my eyes under the covers, listening carefully for a moment, then closed them again when I didn’t hear anything else. Maybe a mouse had passed by and interrupted grandma’s snoring? I was too tired to care. I pulled the blankets tighter around my head and gave in to sleep, never imagining that my life could change forever.
* * * * *
It was the odor that woke me—something animal-like that overpowered the usual alcohol and B.O. smell of my grandmother. Gagging, I opened my eyes to look at Gram.
“Shh.” The stranger standing over her body put a finger up to his lips.
I drew another breath and he was on me so fast I didn’t see it coming.
His hand clamped over my mouth. “Be quiet, Marti,” he whispered. “Trust me, you don’t want to wake the neighbors.”
My entire body shook and my morning bladder started to release.
He must have felt it because he jumped, taking me with him, and ran toward the bathroom.
“Don’t scream. Your father sent me,” he said as shoved me into the bathroom and shut the door.
My mouth hung open as two things occurred to me at once: whoever the guy was, he was gorgeous… and pee was dripping down my leg.
My hands trembled violently as I locked the door behind me and then felt guilty because my grandmother was still on the floor out there. Scattered thoughts whirled as I frantically looked around the room for some type of weapon, not knowing whether to clean myself off first or try to fight my way past him.
Should I scream again?
It was doubtful anyone would hear, or even care if they did hear. The public housing complex we lived in was known for people yelling all hours of the day and night.
There would be no going through the window, either. We were three floors up, and the window was one of those old, louvered glass types that just opened out to the brick wall of the next building, two feet away.
A small lighter on the back of the toilet caught my eye. Gran must have left it there, but what could I do with it? I looked around the room wildly before a can of hairspray snagged my attention.
Combined with the lighter, it could do as a makeshift blowtorch. It was a stretch, but it was the best I had at the moment. I quickly slipped out of my wet pants and wiped down before putting on the bathrobe I kept on the back of the door. I wished I had some other pants to put on; it felt too vulnerable going back out with just a t-shirt and robe.
I tugged the shirt down around my hips as best I could, wrapped the robe around me, and tied it tightly before slipping the hairspray and lighter into the pocket. Just for good measure, I flushed the toilet then turned on the sink tap to account for the time I was spending.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and grimaced at the old, smeared makeup. Disbelieving of my own vanity, I rinsed my face and ran a shaky hand over my hair. I mean, the guy was gorgeous… and what had he said… my father sent him? Plus, he’d called me Marti. Only Gran and my mom had ever called me that nickname for my given name, Maritza.
It was still quiet out there as I splashed my hands around the sink and even brushed my teeth, being sure to make lots of innocent sounding noises as I quickly considered the situation.
The guy was a stranger. It was certain I’d never seen him before, because I would have remembered. He was tall, handsome, mixed race of some sort—a bit Asian looking—with long, blue-streaked dark hair and weirdly silver-gray eyes, but still clearly a mutt, like me. My own mixed heritage showed in my tan skin and too curly hair. Afro-Cuban on my mom’s side, Caucasian on my dad’s.
The sexy but scary stranger outside my door spoke, causing me to jump and stop musing. “Marti, please come out. We have to hurry,” he whispered urgently.
Hurry? To what? My doom?
But he had said please…
So, a polite psycho? I shook my head to clear it and shoved my hand into the pocket containing the hairspray, gripping the can while I palmed the lighter in the hand I used to open the door. I flipped the lock and warily peeked out.
He backed up to let me exit then sniffed as I came out.
My face burned as I wondered if I still smelled like urine, but had no time to consider further as he suddenly shoved me against the wall and tore both the lighter and hairspray away from me in a move so fast I couldn’t track it. I could only hear the rattling sound as my lone weapons rolled down the hallway.
His hand covered my mouth as he bent his face toward mine. I could have almost sworn I saw a hint of admiration in his silver eyes.
“I told you, I’m not here to hurt you,” he said. “If I move my hand, do you promise to listen?”
I nodded as best I could. He moved back and I took a stuttering breath. “Who are you?” I asked.
He reached for my arm. “It’s a long story, and we don’t have time. Come with me and I’ll tell you on the way.”
“On the way where?” My voice shook as I remembered having read that the chances of survival were greatly decreased if an attacker tried to move you to another location.
He made an impatient sound and reached for me. “Let’s just go before the police show up.”
I backed up, shaking my head, took a deep breath, and screamed for all I was worth. “Gran!”
The sound quickly cut off as he twisted me around and pressed an arm to my throat.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered as silvery spots danced at the edges of my vision. My world turned gray just before everything went dark.